An outbreak of vandalism has resulted in Wiltshire Council carrying out a trial closure of Marlborough’s George Lane public toilets overnight for four weeks.
There have been ongoing problems from night time vandalism at the toilets causing an increased expenditure in repairs, maintenance and extra cleaning costs.
The toilets will remain open during the day as normal. The facility will be closed at 8pm each night and opened at 6am each morning.
The disabled toilets will continue to be available for 24 hours a day.
Marlborough Town Council has been consulted about the closure, says a council spokesman.
All MPs will be subject to the same significant pension changes as thousands of public sector workers now on strike across the country, Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed – all thanks to a question in the Commons from Marlborough’s MP Claire Perry.
She asked him during question time yesterday (Wednesday):
“The Prime Minister alluded earlier to the contract between taxpayers and public servants, but there is also a contract between taxpayers and MPs.
“Does he agree that MPs should be in the vanguard of reforming pensions by reforming our own, so that we can look our public sector constituents in the face?
Mr Cameron replied: “I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Members of the House are public sector workers too, and we should be subject to exactly the same changes that we are asking others to take on.
“Therefore, the increase in contributions should apply to the MP system, even though we already pay in quite a lot. We are saying that right across the board, the increase in pension contributions is right to create a healthier long-term system.”
Mrs Perry has today also written to the Leader of the House, Sir George Young pointing out: “In light of the tough choices the Government is having to make on public-sector pensions, I believe that Members should be leading by example and reform their own final-salary pension arrangements in the near future.
“I am aware that Ministers have been consulting with ISPA on the proposals however the lack of activity in the public eye could be construed as an attempt by MPs to not share the same brunt of the deficit reduction as the public sector.
“I would therefore like to urge for an acceleration in these reforms and would welcome your involvement to speed up the progress of the proposals.”
But one Marlborough teacher on strike today, who asked not to be identified, claimed that Mrs Perry’s “planted” question was all part of a government propaganda exercise to disguise the fact that it was unwilling to negotiate the core issues in its “so-called pension reforms”.
“All this talk about unsustainable and untenable public section pensions is not reflected in Lord Hutton’s report to the government, which is being used to manipulate the system,” said the teacher.
“According to him, despite the increase in longevity we all welcome, the cost of public sector pensions is declining, not rising. This is just another blatant attempt to bash the workers.”
The teacher accepted that strikes were unhelpful to the economy but insisted that the government’s “slash and burn” policies were as well.
There was concern that the pension changes would harm future recruitment of graduates already burdened with paying off tuition fees, and this would have a knock-on effect on Education Secretary’s Michael Gove’s reforms, some of which were welcome.
But the teacher returned to the pension debacle and added: “You only have to listen to government ministers on radio – or watch them on telly today – to see them squirming when they are asked pertinent questions they can’t answer.
“There is just this eternal mantra about people not going on strike while negotiations are still going on. They want to discuss the finite details and just refuse to budge an inch on the basic changes they are pushing through to our detriment. It’s so shameful.”
The sale of five small parcels of land on the Stonebridge Meadow for an estimated £14,000 is to go ahead as part of Marlboroughtown council’s partnership project with ARKto revamp the 15-acre site.
The sites will add space to the back gardens of houses on the edge of the meadow, bought jointly by the council and ARK for £150,000, and provide an initial boost for the estimated £43,000 cost of the scheme.
Its aim is to protect and enhance the area, which a botanical survey has revealed contains rare Black Poplar trees on the Kennet river bank, and to introduce community activities once major outside funding is obtained.
“The point of selling this land is for the benefit of this important project,” Councillor Richard Pitts told the town council, who approved the sale.
A desperate plea for people to cut down on their water consumption has been issued by Action River Kennet (ARK) because the rare chalk stream river that flows through Marlborough is at one of its lowest levels.
“The last really disaster year was 1982 and before that 1976,” Charlotte Hitchmough (pictured),” ARK’s director, told Marlborough News Online. “And the current situation is on a par with that. Everyone needs to help in whatever way they can.”
No water bans may be in operation, but ARK is putting pressure on Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury and Undersecretary of State at the Environment, for urgent changes to legislation to protect the Kennet.
“The river is very low, to use Environment Agency parlance its 'notably low', which means it is only likely to be this low eight per cent of the time,” she said.
“The groundwater is well below normal for the time of year, which is why the river is so low/dry. We have had one of the driest springs on record, which followed one of the driest winters on record.
“When the weather is warm and everyone wants to water their gardens and fill up their paddling pools, water consumption rises and it all comes from the same aquifer which feeds the river.
“Thames Water take out the water their customers demand, so it's a question of what everyone locally can do to reduce water consumption, as well as getting Thames to sort out an alternative to Axford as the supply point to Swindon.
“What they are doing is not illegal. The trouble is that the system now operating is rubbish.”
Members of ARK met Thames Water only last week to talk about Axford alternatives. “They are abstracting within the limit set for them by the Environment Agency, but It's a pretty nonsensical situation,” declared Charlotte.
Thames Water publishes on its websites the action people can take to save water, from shorter showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth to collecting rainwater and using water saving devices in toilets.
Thames Water has a solution to the current Axford abstraction of water -- a pipe to link north and south Swindon, which everyone agrees is a good solution. It wants to build the pipe and put it in their business plan, which means all Thames Water customers would pay for it.
However, OFWAT, the industry regulator, took it out of the business plan and declared that the Environment Agency should pay for the cost of the pipeline, except that it doesn’t have the funds to pay for it.
Meanwhile, the government has published its Natural Environment White Paper, which calls for changes, but the specifics will be in another White Paper dealing directly with water use, not due out until December.
“They will contain good recommendations but the critical point is when will they be translated into government policy and put into action? We just don’t know.”
Charlotte urges concerned residents to write both to Richard Benyon and to Marlborough MP Claire Perry seeking urgent action.
In a welcome show of unity, two groups of Marlborough town councillors joined hands last night (Monday) in a bid to set up a new tourist information centre (TIC) to boost summer business as the recession bites and companies nationally collapse.
They voted loans totalling £6,240 from the council’s coffers to organise an emergency TIC, possibly in the mayoral parlour at the town hall, to provide an immediate service following the shock decision of Wiltshire Council to close the public library based information point.
With the backing of Marlborough’s Chamber of Commerce members, the aim is to encourage visitors to the town to stay longer by using local hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, pubs, restaurants and other facilities while enjoying tourist attractions such as prehistoric Silbury Hill and Avebury plus Marlborough’s international jazz and literary festivals.
And they decided at the same time to formalise a working party group of councillors and expert interested parties to plan the reintroduction of a permanent TIC, to cater for long-term local needs.
“The town is looking for leadership after taking another kicking from Wiltshire Council,” declared Councillor Richard Pitts. “We have to stand up for the businesses of the town and help visitors to find bed and breakfast accommodation.”
And Councillor Guy Loosmore urged: “We need to move forward and have a vision for our town and for the future, otherwise we shall regret it.”
The two councillors had initiated, along with former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, a working party led by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former TIC staff who were employed by Wiltshire Council, and gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce.
Now they wanted to take over the mayor’s parlour – and possibly part of the town hall entrance – for a temporary TIC to attract trade to the town and boost tourism in the coming weeks of the summer.
But Councillor Nick Fogg, also a Wiltshire councillor, while expressing concern over the loss of past and current TICs, called for the setting up of a new working group of interested parties “to examine ways in which the visitor base of the town might be maintained and expanded.”
There was a need to do things properly, he insisted, at a time when TICs nationally were “falling like ninepins” because cost-cutting local authorities were withdrawing grants. That included the TIC in Stratford upon Avon, which attracted the fourth largest number of visitors in the country.
There was an urgent need to talk to those TICs that had been successfully sustained by other towns, to encourage traders to help fund tourism publicity leaflets and events.
“What we need is to seek the best practice as established elsewhere to overcome the crisis facing this town,” he pointed out.
His wife, the deputy mayor Edwina Fogg, strongly opposed the taking over of the town’s historic mayoral parlour, pointing out that it was far too small and visitors to a TIC there would interfere with other events taking place in the town hall - such as weddings.
Councillor Stewart Dobson was opposed to “handing over cheques to strangers seeking profits” without a proper financial basis, while Councillor Ross, a retired accountant, pointed out that that the proposed TIC was not being established as a profit-making business but as a service that needed to be pump primed with council funds.
The debate was all part of a two and a half hour meeting during which councillors often displayed puerile and bitter divisions, the mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, frequently banging his gavel and shouting at councillors to “shut up”.
The future prosperity of Marlborough seemed in doubt when two opposing motions were tabled by Councillors Fogg and Pitts, but they finally came together in the heat of the meeting when Councillor Fogg accepted that the current working party should act as the nucleus of his proposals and, along with other councillors, agreed the need for a temporary TIC to be established.
And Councillor Pitts told members that the funding arrangements would be made “totally transparent from the start”, adding: “We want to develop something that will be great for the town.
“If we don’t, then we might as well all pack up and go home.”
Before a unanimous vote to issue the loan funding was taken, the mayor himself agreed with the proposals that might deny him temporary use of his parlour.
“There needs to be a financial commitment by this council to get this project going,” he declared. “Then we can work on plans for a permanent home for the TIC.”
It now looks certain that under the coalition government’s plan to put GP’s in charge of most of the NHS budget, Wiltshire will be divided into three Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – groups of medical practices which up to a month ago were called ‘GP Consortia’. After the pause in the legislation ordered by the prime minister, major change will come more slowly to the NHS, but change is coming fast and furiously to the government’s plans.
These new developments were outlined to Marlborough News Online during an interview with Dr Helen Kingston (pictured left) in between her surgeries and ward rounds at Warminster Community Hospital. She wrote the application by Wiltshire’s first cut of five GP consortia to take the initial step towards official approval. Dr Kingston is now joint chairman of one of the new groups and is in continuing talks on the final shape of services across Wiltshire.
For Dr Kingston’s views on the developing process of ‘NHS modernisation’ and background information see the companion story on her interview with Marlborough News Online in our features section.
These CCGs will commission the healthcare and treatment for the patients in their area – arranging and paying for contracts with hospitals and many other services. Marlborough will be in the group that runs from Ramsbury in the east to Corsham in the west, to Pewsey in the south and north to the border with Swindon.
This group has not published a name yet. But under the government’s ‘post pause’ rules its name will have to include those valuable brand initials ‘NHS’.
It will cover about 167,000 of Wiltshire NHS’ 455,450 population. When we spoke to Dr Jonathan Glover of the Marlborough Medical Practice in April, he expressed doubts about the size, as it was then planned, of the GP consortium which included Marlborough. He had hoped it would cover just a hundred thousand patients. As Dr Glover put it: “So far we have been advised that the bigger the better.”
Dr Kingston revealed that the three groups are likely to co-operate in an ‘over-arching’, Wiltshire-wide organisation to manage and administer the three groups’ human resources and payrolls, and the collection and reporting of statistical information. This is still being negotiated among the leading GPs in the three CCGs.
Dr Kingston welcomed the government’s change in attitude towards the management of the NHS. She said that the White Paper had implied that NHS managers are “a waste of space”: “There’s more talk now about having managers and recognising the value of good management. We have some really good managers in Wiltshire – and we need their expertise.”
As the government’s new plans become clearer – formulated in 181 amendments to the Bill still waiting in Parliament and a flurry of guidance papers – more tiers and frameworks of oversight, proper governance and consultation are being designed. These account for some of the several hundred new NHS quangos that Ed Miliband referred to in prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Dr Kingston spoke about an impending regime of new “frameworks and frameworks within the frameworks”. And she believes that if the governance and consultation processes become too complex and expensive, so requiring the CCG’s to employ higher calibre management, then even these three Wiltshire CCGs might be too small to cope.
Marlborough’s major state school will be hit by tomorrow’s teachers’ strike but the town’s primary school will remain open.
A notice on the website of St John’s announces that it will be closed on Thursday, pointing out: “Due to the teaching unions' industrial action, the school will be closed to students on Thursday 30th June. School will be open as usual on Friday 1st July.”
“Please note that the Sixth Form Induction Day will not now take place on this day. The new date for the induction day is Thursday 7th July. Timings for the new date will be the same as previously planned with an 8:30am start in the Theatre on the Hill.”
And it adds: “Please note that the Year 6 Open Evening scheduled for the 30th of June will still be going ahead as planned. The College Experience visit for year 10 students on June 30th has also been postponed and will take place at a later rearranged date.”
But St Peter’s Primary School is to remain open, according to a list issued by Wiltshire Council informing parents which schools will be closed, some partially closed and others open.
Industrial action has been called by the teaching unions in protest against the government’s proposed changes in teachers' pensions.
Marlborough’s royal wedding day celebrations, which ranged from opening up the town hall for big screen viewing of the event on TV, a children’s party and an evening barn dance and barbecue, cost the town council £2,894.
This was slightly over the under-written sum the council provided to create the events, the biggest payment being £4,581 to cover the cost of the huge marquee in Priory Gardens.
“It was a lot of hard work but the events were wonderfully supported by residents,” former mayor, Councillor Andrew Ross, told the town council meeting on Monday. “We ended up just slightly over budget.”
Marlborough’s new mayor, Councillor Andrew Kirk Wilson, commented: “It was indeed a most memorable day.”
A dramatic change in the way we conduct royal weddings would help to create a greater culture of peace, according to CND veteran Bruce Kent, now 82, who is coming to Marlborough tomorrow (Wed) to lecture.
He will be at St Peter’s Church (7.30pm) at an event organised by Marlborough Quakers, a stone’s throw from Marlborough College, where royal bride Kate Middleton was a student before meeting Prince William at university.
His lecture is entitled, From a Culture of War to a Culture of Peace.
He reveals: “On the day of the royal wedding I had a day dream. I wondered to myself, as I watched all that pageantry and the happy young couple, what a de-militarised royal wedding would look like?
“Prince Philip dressed as a senior life boat crewman? The two Princes as members of the fire service? A parade of nurses on their way down the Mall?”
“Finally, with all due respect to the unknown soldier of a war fought a hundred years ago, Kate returning to lay her bouquet on the stone circle outside Westminster Abbey which honours all the victims of war and violence, those still going on as well as past ones.”
A Roman Catholic priest before campaigning against nuclear arms, Bruce Kent was general secretary and later chair of CND before becoming its honorary vice president.
He believes education can play a greater role in creating a culture of peace that would make it more difficult for us to become involved in wars.
“If every pupil, starting at secondary school, were to be given a copy of the United Nations Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights we would have a more internationally minded population,” he says.
“As it is, young people know more about the highway code than they do about these key international agreements. The United Nations was created in 1945, as it says in the Charter's preamble, to save us all ' from the scourge of war’.”
“Yet we have turned the Security Council into a piece of machinery for authorising war not for preventing it.”
It has no right to authorise military action of any kind, including bombing Libya, unless it has exhausted all non-violent ways of resolving a conflict.
“If we want peace we have to respect the machinery of peace and make it more effective. Today the world spends over a trillion and a quarter dollars a year on its military.”
“A tenth of that sum could help to solve every human problem from global warming to malnutrition.”
Thirty tons of stinking sewage sludge has been dumped on the site of Marlborough Football Club, blocking a public right of way as the club prepares for its first friendly games of the season on Saturday.
Sub-contractors Cappagh were called in by Thames Water to a collapsed sewer leakage on its Stonebridge Meadow site last Friday so that it could be tested before removal.
“They asked someone on the now disused Microlights factory site in Elcot Lane – they moved out last month -- if they could dump the stuff on our land,” explained club treasurer John Neale.
“Whoever it was said Yes, and the next thing we knew was that 30 tons of it had been dumped on our car park and blocking the right of way. They didn’t attempt to ask us.
“And now we’ve got this terrible stench about the place, a real stink from this pile of mud slurry.”
He added: “We understand it was done in an emergency but we may have to wait to see what happens next while they test it for contamination.”
“And if it is, then they will have contaminated our site too and we shall seek some compensation.”
The reason why Cappagh were unable to take away the sewage immediately was because a sample of the waste had to go first for laboratory testing, to determine its content before a formal waste transfer licence can be issued by Marlborough town council to transport it.
Cappagh contracts manager Ron Harris said that once the dumped spillage has been removed, the company will be able to ascertain whether the football club’s ground has been contaminated in any way, and take action.